Sunday, March 19, 2017

Jadeja leads India's charge after Pujara 202




Cheteshwar Pujara secured the longest occupation ever by an Indian batsman in a Test match as he and Wriddhiman Saha ground Australia into the Ranchi dust on the fourth day. The tourists were unable to maintain their shackles on the middle-order pair after a pair of close calls went against them in the morning, leaving India as the only side who can win this match.

That fact was underlined by the final eight overs of the day, in which Ravindra Jadeja bowled David Warner through the gate and then followed up by skidding through the nightwatchman Nathan Lyon with the day's last delivery. Jadeja's accuracy and variation of spin loom as the gravest threats to Steven Smith's bedraggled team on day five.

Full report to follow

Innings India 603 for 9 dec (Pujara 202, Saha 117, Vijay 82, Rahul 67, Cummins 4-103) lead Australia 451 (Smith 178*, Jadeja 5-124) by 152 runs

Cheteshwar Pujara secured the longest occupation ever by an Indian batsman as he and Wriddhiman Saha ground Australia's bowlers into the Ranchi dust on the fourth day. The tourists were unable to maintain their shackles on the middle-order pair after a pair of close calls went against them in the morning, leaving India as the only side who can win this match.

In all, their stand was worth 199, denying Australia of a wicket until the evening session when both batsmen fell in pursuit of quick runs to increase India's lead. Ravindra Jadeja (54 off 55 balls) prolonged the punishment, and the tourists were left with eight overs to survive before the close, and been maneuvered into a position from which India have already won Test matches at home this season.

Patience has always been a strength of Pujara's, and by surpassing Rahul Dravid as the Indian batsman to spend the longest time batting in a Test he showed fortitude of a truly rare kind. Saha offered excellent support, opening his shoulders to play attractively against a tiring Australian attack and completed a deserved century.

Pat Cummins, who again bowled with great quality for the tourists, had Saha given out lbw with his first ball of the day, but the wicketkeeper's referral showed the ball to be missing leg stump by millimetres.

Closer to lunch Pujara was given out lbw to a delivery that Nathan Lyon straightened down the line of the stumps from around the wicket, but his review showed the ball to be spinning too much and also sliding past leg stump. Steve O'Keefe also came close to a breakthrough when Saha edged a cut shot attempt but the chance was dropped by Matthew Wade.

Chances dried up almost entirely in the afternoon as Pujara and Saha went on to a partnership that has redefined the match and possibly the series. Not least by placing a considerable physical strain on Australia's four-man bowling attack - Glenn Maxwell's off breaks have been used only sparingly.

Pujara's performance has effectively cancelled out the big hundred made by Australia's captain Steven Smith, and put India in position to pressure the tourists on the final day. Saha's assistance was also vital in frustrating a touring team that had started the day with hopes of quickly rolling up the India tail and setting a fourth innings target.

Cummins had briefly enjoyed the sensation of claiming a fifth wicket of the innings in his return to Test cricket, nearly six years after his storied debut against South Africa in Johannesburg. Saha was nowhere near a ball angled into him, and there was some discussion with Pujara before he reviewed. The Australians were floored when ball-tracking showed the ball to be missing leg stump.

From there Pujara and Saha accumulated slowly, against bowling that remained disciplined under an overcast sky that compelled the umpires to turn on the stadium floodlights. Pujara's 202 was a marker of his concentration and temperament against bowling that rarely lapsed into looseness.

Lyon was not used until midway through the session, and from around the stumps he appeared to have found a way to winkle out Pujara when the umpire Ian Gould raised his finger in response to the lbw appeal. However HawkEye again went the way of India.

Wade's drop of Saha from O'Keefe on 51 drew an apology from gloveman to bowler, then shortly before the interval Lyon again appealed and then referred, this time for caught behind when Saha essayed a sweep shot. But replays found no evidence of contact and left the Australians having made no progress for their morning's efforts.

Smith took the third new ball soon after play resumed, and once again Cummins produced a series of testing deliveries but was unable to claim the wicket Australia so dearly needed. Instead the hosts forged into the lead while the visitors used up their two decision referrals with a pair of overly optimistic appeals.

Pujara's long-batting milestone was followed by Saha's approach to within one run of his century. The stand was worth an unbeaten 175 at the break, with two sessions now elapsing without a single wicket. Another 24 runs accrued after tea at an increasing rate, including Saha's century, before Pujara popped a catch to midwicket to hand Lyon his first wicket since day one of the Bengaluru Test.

Saha fell in a similar manner, but Jadeja was more successful in taking the attack to the visitors. O'Keefe's 77 overs were the sixth-most ever by an Australian bowler in a Test innings, a tally not surpassed since Jim Higgs against England in 1979.

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